Dating the Photo

Working under the premise that these are the Bronte sisters, and the photo is a copy of a daguerreotype, this page examines clues in the image which may help date the original photo.

If these are the Bronte sisters then the most likely location is York so the photo could only have been taken after the opening of the photographic studio there in September 1844 but before the death of Emily Bronte in 1848.

Cloak Clues

Charlotte and Emily are wearing thick travelling cloaks but Anne isn't. The most plausible explanation for this is that Anne was still employed at Thorp Green Hall (about 12 miles from York) and that Charlotte & Emily had made the long journey to York from Haworth. This would narrow the date to between  September 1844 and June 1845, when Anne's employment ended.

Hat Clues

As far as can be ascertained, the only place in 1840s Europe where this style of hat existed was Germany. The only person to enter Haworth Parsonage, freshly arrived from Germany, was Mary Taylor when she stayed with the sisters in December 1844. (see Straw Hats & Cloaks)

Christmas Holidays

Anne is thought to have spent the Christmas holidays at Haworth, returning to Thorp Green Hall, near York on 18 January 1845, the day after her 25th birthday. This again narrows the date of the photo to between 18 January 1845, and June 1845.

Events of 1845.

The first six months of 1845:  At Haworth, Charlotte was frustrated because her letters to Constantin Héger received no response. Her plans to open a school in the Parsonage had been abandoned. Patrick Bronte's eyesight was gradually worsening. Arthur Bell Nicholls arrived in Haworth. Branwell & Anne were working at Thorp Green Hall for the Robinson family. Branwell was continuing his affair with Mrs Robinson. Anne was writing poetry, becoming depressed and may or may not have been aware of Branwell's affair. Emily was just fine, writing poetry, cooking and cleaning at Haworth.

No Mention of York?

It is not yet known whether there is evidence that Charlotte and Emily visited York together in 1845. If there is no mention of it in their correspondence then it may be due to events taking place in this period. Researchers depend heavily upon the letters between Charlotte and Ellen Nussey for information, but at this point in time Ellen had problems as well. Her family was dealing with her brother George's mental illness and early in 1845 she took him to Harrogate and Bridlington.

No Mention of a Photograph?

Some articles in newspapers and journals mention a "photograph" or "daguerreotype" of the Bronte sisters. These are thought to have been (collodion) photos on glass of Branwell's two group portrait paintings, copied in the 1850s for Martha Brown. There is some evidence that an actual photograph existed but this research is not yet complete. The history of the other portraits may explain why there is no mention.1.

Who owned the Photograph?

Of the three sisters, Anne is the one most likely to have been interested in photography. If she owned the photo it would have remained in her possession until her death in May 1849. This may account for the word 'daguerreotype' appearing in Charlotte's 'Shirley' (see Anne Bronte page).

The Date? 

If these are the Bronte sisters, and the photo was taken in York, then the few clues we have suggest that it dates to sometime between 18 January 1845 and the end of June 1845. A number of days between these dates can be excluded.

1.In 1850 Charlotte wrote to her publishers: "I grieve to say that I possess no portrait of either of my sisters." In fact there were two oil paintings of them, painted by their brother Branwell, hanging on the walls of Haworth Parsonage as well as

One pencil sketch and one miniature watercolour portrait by Charlotte of Anne c1835. (see Art of the Brontes p.230 for the latter).
 pencil sketch portrait by Charlotte, of Emily c1835 (whereabouts unknown since 1879).
One watercolour profile portrait by Charlotte, possibly of Emily c1835  which exists but remains unidentified. (See "Charlotte Bronte's Portrait of a Woman" near the end of the Emily Bronte page). She strongly resembles 'Emily' in the photograph (for the original see Art of the Brontes p.231) .

It is possible that there were other small sketches or watercolours, including one or more of Charlotte.

Charlotte did not want images of herself or her sisters made public. After her death her widower allowed George Richmond's portrait of Charlotte to be published but Branwell's two group portraits were hidden and one of them destroyed.